The longest I've hiked without meeting up with someone not in my party was four days while backpacking in the Rocky Mountains. But, on most day hikes, you will probably encounter other hikers and maybe some bikers or horse riders. Being prepared for these meetings before they happen is a good thing.
Share the Trail
There's a saying: You'll never win a fight with an automobile. The same general rule applies to any situation in which you find yourself - the bigger object wins. On trails, a hiker is about the smallest, slowest object so it is in your best interest to yield to any other mode of transportation you encounter.
A commonly used trail sharing sign is shown here.
The rules are:
- Bikers yield to hikers and horses
- Hikers yield to Horses
As a slow, unprotected hiker, I'm not about to argue the right of way with a horse or biker or ATV or anything else I might meet. I will always politely yield the trail and use the time to take a deep breath and say 'Howdy'.
Here are a bunch of tips to make it easier to share the trail with others. Please remember these and try to follow them and pass them on to new hikers:
- Stay on the trail. Do not cut switchbacks or take shortcuts.
- Stay to the right on wider paths.
- Pass on the left.
- When overtaking someone, let them know you are approaching and will be passing on their left. You may hear a biker call out, "On your Left!" as he comes up from behind. That means you should stay to your right.
- Whenever you stop for a view, a rest, or to yield, move off the trail so it is free for others. If you are selecting the spot for a rest, get off on a used area or a durable surface such as a rock, dirt, or snow. Don't just trample off the trail into a nice soft field of grass and flowers.
- Hikers going uphill are working hard and should be given the right of way over hikers coming downhill. Sometimes uphill hikers will prefer to stop and let you pass coming down so they can get a short break. The uphill hiker should get to make the call.
- Greet people you meet. This makes sure they know you are there and is polite. A simple "Howdy" or "Nice Day" is fine.
- When hiking in a group, yield to single or pair hikers. It's harder for a group to get off the trail so often times singles will stop and let you all pass, but its their call.
- When hiking in a group, hike single file or take no more than half of a wide trail. Make sure everyone in your group understands what actions to take when encountering hikers, bikers, and horses.
When meeting a horse:
- Get off the trail on the downhill side. Horses will tend to bolt uphill when spooked. Also, you waiting on the uphill side looks more like a predator waiting to pounce.
- Quietly greet the rider and ask if you are ok where you are.
- Stand quietly while the horses pass.
- Hike Quietly. Echos are fun, but keep conversations quiet and enjoy the lack of horns, engines, and city noises. There is such a thing as noise pollution. And, in my view, cellphones are the worst form of this pollution.
- Don't leave any markers when hiking off-trail. Cairns, ducks, or little piles of rocks are not needed. If people are hiking cross-country, their compass and map are all they need. Markers tend to concentrate traffic which creates more unmanaged trail scars. Or, markers pop up all over and serve no navigational purpose.
- Read trailhead guidelines. There may be specific rules for the trail you are on.
- Pack It In - Pack It Out. I am always amazed to find litter. It just does not make sense that someone spending time to get out into nature would purposely destroy it. I just don't get it.
- Take a Picture. A pretty rock or a bunch of flowers deserve to remain where they are. We have a need for mementos of our adventures, but picture in your mind what the place would look like if the group before you had taken what you are about to put in your pocket.
- Report vandalism. If there is contact information at the trailhead, tell the managing agency of any destruction or management needs you notice.
On the Soapbox
You will run into some people that feel they have a right to do whatever they want outdoors. You'll see areas where horses were tied to trees, ruining the bark and killing the trees. You'll see wide, braided trails around muddy spots with footprints, hoofprints, and tiretracks all adding to the damage. You'll see washed out gullies created by mountain bikers having fun tearing down the mountain. You'll have a biker fly past you with no warning.
These are the people that make an impression. Keep your eyes open for them for your own safety, but also recognize the many others that are courteous and polite. And, make sure people put you into the courteous and polite category after they've met you on the trail.
Feb 16, 2012 - Frank Will - a.k.a "Trail Dog"
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